The final two weeks of the semester are busy for everyone with stacks of grading, year-end meetings, and preparation for winter break plans, but this year it is even a bit busier for me. I am bringing five of my research students to the annual Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting January 3-7, 2015. I am excited for this conference because my students are presenting on a variety of topics that represent the breadth of my own research program and that of my collaborators here at Milllikin University. In addition, I will be presenting my first talk on raptor ecoimmunology and disease ecology since I started working with birds of prey just last year. As I wrap up manuscripts from the 3-year study of supplemental feeding in a community of songbirds that was my first major research project as a faculty member, I am pleased to have been able to get a new study to the point of presentation at a national meeting.
The dynamic of bringing undergraduates to a national meeting is always an interesting one – this time made more interesting by the diverse interests and motivation for these students to participate. Two of them are already entrenched in the path to graduate studies in physiological ecology, having already made connections with potential graduate advisors, written grant proposals, and submitted application materials. Those two know that this meeting offers a chance to connect with some of those potential advisors in person and get great experience and feedback that will facilitate their transition to graduate school. I suspect they will spend much of their time outside of their presentations taking in as many talks and posters related to their field of interest as possible. The other three are pursuing professional programs (Veterinary, Physical Therapy, etc) and for them, I am sure they will approach this meeting much differently: give their presentations and go explore West Palm Beach.
If they are like my last pre-professional students I brought to a national meeting, however, they will likely find themselves drawn to a few presentations here and there because they wouldn’t have made the commitment to this meeting if at some level they didn’t love biology. What I always look forward to is the conversations we have about what they learned during the day, either from their own presentations or from listening to others, and that I NEVER have to look at them and say “So, what did you learn today”. Those conversations spontaneously arise and seems as if they just can’t help but to want to talk science at these conferences. The best part is that I really get to see them putting the knowledge they gained from their coursework to use.
– T. Wilcoxen